When 2,000 people attended the first D.C. Capital Pride festival in June 1975, their thirst was quenched by one truck with beer and another with soda. Refreshment options were limited, but everyone appeared satisfied that gay men and women were marching at all.
âWe were the majority, suddenly,â Deacon Maccubbin, former owner of Lambda Rising bookstore, who helped organize Pride events until 1980, told The Washington Post in 2000. âWe could have a good time together without worrying about offending anyone.â
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has made strides since that first Pride festival â both in wider public acceptance and in laws that grant protections and rights â but activists say that sense of unity has slipped away.
An activist collective that says the Capital Pride festival is too closely tied to corporations and police is planning alternative events and action during this weekendâs LGBT rights festival. No Justice No Pride seeks âto end the LGBT movementâs collusion with systems of oppression that further marginalize queer and trans individuals,â according to its Facebook page.
NJNP finds faults with Pride and the Capital Pride Alliance, the nonprofit organization behind the festival. Pride sponsors include large corporations like Wells Fargo, recently condemned by members of the D.C. Council for its lending to private prisons and investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline, and weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman. Another sponsor, Marylandâs Live! Casino, is owned by the Cordish Companies, which has ties to the Trump administration.
âFor some time thereâs been a general sense that Pride has become more of a corporate festival rather than being true to Prideâs roots as resistance to state violence,â said Andrew Ambrogi, a spokesman for NJNP.
Cathy Renna, a spokeswoman for Capital Pride Alliance, said the LGBT community is a âmicrocosm of culture.â Not everyone agrees on everything â particularly under a presidential administration hostile to gay rights, she said.
âHaving to fight constantly and resist constantly, we are turning a little bit on each other,â Renna said. âItâs totally understandable, but I donât think itâs totally justified.â
Organizers said there are advantages to having the backing of deep-pocketed businesses, which they see as advancing LGBT rights. Not only do big corporations bring in money, but LGBT employees often encourage their employers to get involved. Big businesses also helped to fight recent legislation such as the anti-transgender âbathroom billâ in North Carolina, Pride organizers say â adding that rules for which companies can contribute might be needed.
âWe know not every corporation is in line with the sentiments of everyone attending,â said Bernie Della, president of the Capital Pride Alliance, adding that the board will develop âcriteria for corporate sponsorsâ later this year.
Some activists think that corporate cash comes with a cost, arguing that it sullies the history of LGBT activism that includes the 1969 Stonewall riots, when drag queens battled police after a raid on a gay bar in Manhattan.
âWe donât think itâs right or fair or in line with the legacy of Pride for these institutions .â.â. to walk alongside us in the parade and say they are standing up for the community,â said Angela Peoples, the D.C.-based director of GetEqual, an LGBT activist organization.
Given the history of relations between police and some members of the LGBT community, others questioned whether police should be part of Pride at all.
Jen Deerinwater, a D.C.-based activist and member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock last year. A bisexual and disabled journalist, she said she objects to the presence of police at the Pride parade â not just gay officers who may choose to march in uniform, but any uniformed police at all.
âAll water protectors have faced a great degree of police brutality,â she said of the pipeline protests. âThereâs an idea in America that police are here to keep us safe .â.â. that their main role is to serve and protect. Thatâs not really what they do.â
Della said he understood concerns about âhistorical problems with law enforcement in general.â After a discussion with the D.C. police LGBT liaison unit, officers participating in the parade will wear polo shirts, not uniforms, he said.
The Capital Pride Alliance canât control how D.C. police deploy officers throughout the city, but Della said officers would be welcome regardless.
âThereâs no interest on our part in removing them from the parade,â Della said. âThey are members of the community.â
The police department pointed out that itâs been a part of Pride for decades.
âMPD has a long history dating back at least to the 90s of participating in and ensuring the safety and security of the Capital Pride events,â Brett Parson, head of the D.C. police LGBT liaison unit, said in a statement. âWe look forward to being part of this yearâs festivities, as well as ensuring everyone in attendance has a safe and enjoyable time.â
NJNP also raised questions about diversity on the Capital Pride Alliance board, saying different genders and economic classes must be represented. The 17-member board, for example, includes just one transgender person.
âThe board is primarily upper-middle class, able-bodied, American gay cis men,â Deerinwater said. (Cisgender refers to those whose biological sex matches their gender identity.) âThatâs not what our community is made up of.â
Though members of NJNP were given the chance to talk to the Capital Pride Alliance board in April and May, Della said concerns they identified canât be addressed weeks before a large event. He said critics should âlook beyond the boardâ to volunteers and producers of events, who were members of âan extremely diverse population.â
âWe have taken measures to try to make the board as diverse as we possibly can,â he said. âAre we where we need to be and hope to be? No.â
Ambrogi said activists were frustrated with the slow pace of progress on diversity, homelessness in the LGBT community and âoverpolicing,â especially after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples could legally marry in 2015.
âThey said, âLet us win this together and then weâll get to those issues,âââ he said. âNow weâre seeing an identity crisis. We want to see if the establishment is true to their word.â
Maccubbin, 74, said he was an âantiwar protester from the â60sâ sensitive to complaints about sponsors like Northrop Grumman, but has also fought for LGBT visibility and for police to protect gay people, rather than harass them.
He said protesters might have trouble getting what they want anytime soon.
âPeople engaged in building the war machine are not my first choice of people to party with, but they have a right to be there,â he said.